GMUSD board balks at hearing CTES complaints

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While the agenda for the Green Mountain Unified School District’s Thursday, April 25 meeting was full — and the public portion of the meeting went on for three hours — one question hung over the proceedings until the end and even then some members of the public complained it did not get a full public airing.

A number of those attending wore buttons in support of the principal

The matter that brought more than 35 people out for the meeting was a petition signed by 70 members of the community asking the board to postpone offering Cavendish Town Elementary Principal Debra Beaupre a new contract until the board heard their complaints.

Those include discipline that parents deemed inappropriate and an incident in which they say Beaupre passed a school bus with its lights flashing so she could board it and discipline the students riding on it. Vermont State Police spokesman Adam Silverman confirmed on Tuesday April 30 that police had received a complaint about the bus incident but said that no other information was available while troopers are working on the case.

A complaint about the school bus incident in question is pending with the Vermont State Police.

By the same token, there were at least as many at the meeting sporting buttons that read, “I support Mrs. Beaupre.”

With Superintendent Meg Powden’s recommendation to renew Beaupre’s contract on the agenda before any of those attending could speak to the issues, the board decided to table the contract discussion until after public comment.

Normally, at GMUSD meetings, public comment – a requirement under Vermont’s Open Meeting Law – is near the top of the agenda but it was placed last in this case.

CTES parent Michelle Messina asks to read Amy Davis’ letter to the board

Michelle Messina, a signer of the petition, asked to read a letter that Amy Davis had sent to Powden and the board regarding the bus incident. Davis could not attend due to a sick child and board chair Joe Fromberger refused to let the letter be read. You can read that letter here. Messina said that Davis had met with Beaupre, the bus driver, GM transportation supervisor Todd Parah and Powden. The superintendent denied meeting with Davis, saying that they had communicated, but that Davis had not asked for a meeting.

And as the public comment approached, several board members expressed unease at allowing audience members to make complaints that they saw as a personnel matter in public and as something to work out according to a “chain of command” process. And at the same time that it was pointed out that the law gives the public the right to speak on any issue, Fromberger asked the public to refrain from talking about the issue.

Justin Osier tells the board that one side had its say while the other had been ‘suppressed’

Several parents spoke in support of Beaupre calling her “fantastic” and “a breath of fresh air” especially in handling bullying. Others noted the problems with running a school with a military “chain of command” model, but only two spoke to complaints about the principal – both regarding the safety problems around her actions with the school buses.

Justin Osier told the board he thought that they had heard “adequately” from one side of the story, but the other side had been suppressed “by the actions of the board to keep that down.”

Fromberger said he was impressed with the astuteness and respect with which people had expressed their concerns.

“Thank you for taking the time to come visit with us,” said Fromberger.

With the comment period over, the board voted to offer Beaupre a one-year contract with a 2.75 percent salary increase.

‘Gag order’ was ‘misunderstanding’ but essentially accurate

Powden told the board that she had looked into the question of whether there was a gag order in effect at the Chester-Andover Elementary School to prevent the faculty and staff there from speaking with board members.

The question came up at the Jan. 17 meeting during a discussion of adding an assistant principal to the staff when board member Jeff Hance he wanted to hear from teachers but they were not allowed to speak to him.

Jeff Hance, right, listens to Powden’s report on the ‘gag order’ he told the board he had encountered in January

Powden said there is “a lot of confusion about the directive that was given.”

Powden said that she wanted the board to not listen to concerns brought to them by teachers, staff and parents because “it undermines the work of the school and also as the governing body and the end of the chain of command, it’s not OK for you to have prior knowledge of a situation,” before getting a presentation on the issue.

Powden said it was acceptable to listen to staff members, teachers or principals who want to share any celebrations or points of pride but not if a teacher or  staff member approaches a board member about a concern. “I would ask that you remind them about the chain of command,” said Powden

Powden asked the board to accept this or to “put something else together” so she can go back to the staff and say “this is what we have adopted.”

Board member Doug McBride, a Cavendish resident and businessman, noted that in his experience, the chain of command model hasn’t worked out well and that an “open door” policy where anybody at any time could go to any door works much better. McBride said the chain of command works really well in the military, but that a lot of organizations are more complicated and there are parents and students who may feel uncomfortable in a confrontation.

“Adhering to a chain of command is sending a message to our students, parents and teachers and putting a damper on what they want to say,” said McBride, noting that that results in losing a lot of important information for the school.

“I understand the need to be neutral when we are making the decision in an investigation,” said board member Kate Lamphere, “but we have that capability, we’re grown up people.”

The board asked to see examples of how other schools handle this, including open door models.

Honoring Dr. Bont, reforming board oversight, budget process

McBride asked the board to consider several initiatives, beginning with finding a suitable way to honor the life and work of longtime member of several school boards Dr. Gene Bont of Cavendish.

Board member Doug McBride introducing a number of proposals to facilitate board oversight and reform the budget process

The board quickly approved that and McBride went on to ask the board to look at four proposals aimed at increasing public participation, facilitating board oversight and reforming the district’s budget process. The proposed budget reform would see the budget process beginning much earlier, with the board giving direction on “priorities, goals and targets” to the superintendent before the SU begins drafting a budget. Typically, the SU has delivered a proposed budget at a November meeting with a mid-January deadline for it to be printed in the warning.

McBride, who will chair the newly formed audit committee of the board, also proposed that the board ask Superintendent Powden to deliver a written report on the failure of the supervisory union and its outside auditors to track and account for a liability from closing out the lease of school buses. According to McBride, the liability of $60,000 was discovered in the spring of 2018 but was not reported to the finance committee as it prepared the 2019/2020 budget.

In addition to approving the Bont resolution, the board also passed one asking the TRSU board to hold its meetings in the schools of its two districts rather than at the Roost at Fletcher Farm. The board will consider McBride’s other proposals in the future.

In other business

Board members refused to ratify the support staff agreement because they had only received the contract in that day’s email and most had not had the chance to read it. Business manager Cheryl Hammond said the document was not received from the school’s lawyer until Tuesday afternoon and that waiting would mean delays on some payments. But board members asserted that this was part of their responsibility and that they would discuss and vote on it at the May 16 meeting.

Wayne Wheeler of Baltimore has volunteered to take the board seat vacated by Kathy Muther.

Powden announced that Baltimore board member Kathy Muther had resigned after 15 years on school boards. Wayne Wheeler, who has also had long experience on school boards, volunteered for the position, but Fromberger said the board would get input from Baltimore’s Select Board and vote on a replacement for Muther at the next meeting.

According to Powden, the audits of the school districts that merged into GMUSD were not finished in time for the boards of those districts to review them, so there will a special board meeting to review those audits at 6 p.m. on Thursday May 23 at Chester-Andover Elementary. McBride asked if this was the same firm recently selected to do this year’s audit. Hammond said it is the same company and that she is having a conversation with them about making the Nov. 15 deadline.

The next GMUSD board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 16 at Chester-Andover Elementary School, 72 Main St. in Chester.

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  1. Michele Lindberg says:

    Unfortunately this is what happens when local control is taken away. This last voting cycle was a chance to save our local control. Voters just keep choosing state overreach and this is just the beginning. Fasten your seatbelts it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Residents will have less and less say in their public schools as time marches on. Home schooling or private schools are the way to go.

  2. Michelle Messina says:

    The biggest issue we have currently and overrides our concerns with the principal is Superintendent Meg Powden and her domineering over the school board.

    Interesting that she is awarded a 2-year contract with a 4 percent raise and for what? She ignores concerns and issues that are brought to her and/or that she is aware of.

    Her job, if she implemented that correctly, would be to reach out to concerns within the school community, not stifle them, while turning a blind eye. We lost three incredible paraeducators because it wasn’t in the budget to offer them a family health care plan.

    They only make $20,000 annually. However, the budget allowed for Powden to be awarded a 4 percent raise while she clearly does not do her job. She claims we need to follow this chain of command in order to be heard and our concerns addressed. When did she follow the chain of command when she was awarded her renewed contract without a proper review from the school board first?

    There was a very angry parent who had an ongoing concern with Mrs. Beaupre and tried to address this concern on the 25th, an hour before the board meeting took place. Meg and Mrs. Beaupre were in the principal’s office with that parent when Meg tried to excuse herself but was asked to stay by the irate parent and help address the issue with the principal at CTES.

    After the parent stated her concerns, Mrs. Beaupre asked Powden to leave so she could have a private conversation with that parent. Powden left and did not address that situation. Who can we go to with our concerns then? Who is holding the principal and Powden accountable?

    Our teachers have a right along with parents and children to speak up and be heard. They are fearful to come forward and this article clearly outlines why they have no voice. This entire system is extremely flawed. Many parents are left needing to home school their children or transfer them.